President Van Zandt and Provost Tim Marshall wrote a misleading message to our community regarding the state of our contract negotiations. See our revisions below.
Subject: We corrected DVZ’s message to the community
20 April 2018
To The New School Community,
SENS-UAW was pleased to read the recent update from the President and Provost on the progress of achieving a collective bargaining agreement for Academic Student Workers (ASWs) at the New School. Unfortunately, that update omitted many important details and misrepresented others. Lest the community be left with a mistaken impression, we address these issues below.
We want to update you on progress toward a first collective bargaining agreement with SENS-UAW, the union representing approximately 850 student workers at The New School. These include Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Research Assistants, Course Assistants and Tutors.
This is correct! Contrary to the subject line of the President’s email, however, (“Graduate Student Union Contract Update”), many of these students are undergraduates – SENS-UAW represents all students employed in an academic role on campus, not just graduate students.
You can learn more about this unit and the university’s long-standing partnerships with eight other labor unions on campus here.
You can learn about the university’s plans to fire its unionized cafeteria workers here.
The New School began contract negotiations with SENS-UAW in September, shortly after the union was certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
This fails to mention that certification in September came only after the university administration lost its appeal to the full Federal Board of the NLRB in Washington D.C., trying to overturn the decision of the NLRB Regional Director that recognized our right to unionize. The full, expensive, unnecessary, unsuccessful tale of the New School’s legal efforts to fight our union, dating back to 2014, can be found on the NLRB’s website, here.
Since that time, representatives from the university have been regularly meeting with their counterparts from SENS-UAW. Progress to-date has been well ahead of what has been the case in many other negotiations. NYU, the only other private university with a graduate student union contract in place, took more than 18 months to finalize an agreement.
In point of fact, NYU’s contract was settled in around half the number of negotiating sessions that we have had so far. Moreover, after fighting for over four years for our union, SENS-UAW is committed to securing a contract this semester that will take effect in Fall 2018. We are deeply concerned that the administration does not share this commitment. To take only the most recent example, the administration insisted it needed more than four months to draft a response to our economic demands. That response, when we finally received it, was half a page long.
Working together, union representatives and New School staff have been able to reach consensus on a number of areas and are working hard to address other important concerns to our academic student workers, such as the need to ensure on-time wage payments in addition to enhanced wages and other benefits.
We welcome this acknowledgment from the administration that student employees need to be paid on time, and that this contract is necessary to ensure that. We find it a pretty stunning admission – in light of the administration’s previous insistence that such a contract was unnecessary – but a welcome and accurate one.
Negotiating a collective bargaining agreement is a complex process. This is especially true in the case of a first-time agreement, and even more so in the relatively uncharted territory of a unionized workforce made up of students at a private university. There are major considerations and decisions involved that need to be thought through carefully from a range of perspectives as they will impact other parts of the University community as well as generations of students to come. We take this responsibility very seriously.
We agree that these are complex and important issues. We remain, as always, enthusiastically available to explain them to the administration. We have reached consensus on many issues, but continue to encounter frustrating delays from the administration on key matters. We look forward to closing the remaining gaps between parties’ positions and concluding the contract before the end of the semester.
We remain committed to the process of negotiation and are working with the goal of creating a strong, fair, and successful contract. We will to hold true to these values regardless of what other universities may choose to do or the shifting composition of the NLRB.
In the current phase of negotiations, you may notice posters or various public demonstrations around our campus. These expressions by SENS-UAW focus attention on the process we are engaged in and promote specific union demands. We respect the union’s right to be visible and vocal and acknowledge that SENS-UAW has respected campus guidelines that are in place to ensure that teaching, learning and services to faculty and students are always our most important priority.
We respect the university’s right to be “visible and vocal” in promoting itself as an institution that lives up to the progressive values upon which it was founded. We think it’s false advertising if it doesn’t pay student workers a living wage.
We firmly believe that both sides in this negotiation process share a sense of responsibility to the academic mission of The New School and to all students who choose to pursue their education here.
We firmly believe in the academic mission of The New School too. It’s why we’re here. It’s why we work as hard as we do. But we are tired of seeing friends and colleagues exhausted, some to the point of dropping out, by the chronic undervaluing of our labor. If this university can afford to spend $50,411,000 (in 2016) on “Institutional Support”, it can afford to provide decent wages and benefits to academic student workers – those of us actually teaching classes, grading papers, and undertaking research. We recognize what we contribute to the academic mission of this institution. The administration, as yet, does not.
We look forward to continued progress on a new contract.
Great. Give us a real economic proposal.